Last night I might have spoken a bit too fast when I said that Paris was finally sunny. Though I have not felt any raindrops today, the sky has been decidedly grey and the few rays of sunlight that have managed to come through had to fight a hardy battle to push through the fluffy layer of clouds.
It might seem a bit off-topic to insist on commenting on the weather when, really, this post is meant to concentrate on what I discovered when I visited the 6B, an art center in the parisian suburb of Saint Denis but, I swear, there is a link.
You see, during my conversation with Julien Beller, the founder and director of the space, a lot of time was spent talking about the way the 6B is becoming and increasingly strong influence in the city of Saint Denis, as well as the cultural scene of the Paris area. “Ça rayonne” was the expression that kept being repeated: it shines.
The use of that word is not a manifestation of its founder’s arrogance; the verb “rayonner,” to shine, is actually the given term used in French to describe the repercussions of one entity’s energy on others. When used to talk about the 6B, that verb takes on an even stronger signification.
This space was not created to be the CoolHipArtsy place for Paris. Beller found the location, worked out a deal with the owner to rent a small part of the building then called up his friends to see who would want to be part of the project. It was just born out of a simple desire to work together. As Beller says,
I really couldn’t have cared less about speaking to people who lived in Paris itself. I didn’t come here thinking, ‘We need a new spot, it needs to be bringing in a ton of people, all the parigots [Paris-only minded people] have to be here as well as famous artists…’ I just wanted a space that had meaning and fulfilled the community’s needs. Turns out a lot of Paris people came and found a second wind because they had room to work, they met new people… Since we opened a lot of people have ended up moving to Saint Denis, but others still just come here to work, sometimes after a commute of an hour and 30 minutes.
That genuine and organic gathering of like-minded people really does turn the 6B into a bright spot in the neighbourhood. The walls of the pathway along the water that leads you to the center is covered in colourful graffiti and the little signs pointing the way, thus reassuring you that you’re not just walking to a dead end–before seeing the building, I could just see a lock on the canal in the distance, convincing me I’d gone the wrong way–are in fun, pastel colored paint and written in a soft, round-lettered font.
You truly get a sense of how unique the place is when you actually enter inside the gates and are face to face with the Fabrique à Rêves (or Dream Factory), a large outdoor installation made to host concerts, performances, and playful activities of all kinds. This is where you’ll see the residents getting lunch on warm, sunny days as well as the sheep of the sheep barn and the guerilla vegetable patches!
The 6B also shines a new light on an area often dismissed because it still carries the burden of a violent, drug-filled past and the feeling that its population, often of humble or immigrant background, was never made to feel like they belonged. With his constant desire to integrate the many and to fill the gaps in the resources offered by cities, Julien Beller and his crew managed, through their work at the 6B, to ignite a new fire in the area by giving it a place where homegrown culture could grown and radiate far beyond the borders it was once confined in.
For more info, visit www.6b.org.
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